Some of the simplest questions in publishing have some of the most complicated answers. And "how long does it take to get a book published" is about as simple as a question can get.
The range of possible answers is nearly infinite. In the past, I've literally published a book (well, chapbook) the same day as the manuscript was ready to go. That's super fast! I've also had books and ebooks go from idea to publication in less than a month. Again, super fast!
On the other hand, some books are published more than two years after the ink dries on the book contract. Most books fall somewhere in between those timelines.
So let's look at how long it takes for a book to get published as well as what the conditions are for each situation.
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How Long Does It Take to Get a Book Published?
Before I get into a more definitive answer to this question, let's set some ground rules. For beginners, we're going to say this book is getting traditionally published. As I shared above, self-publishing makes time to market exceptionally fast.
Second rule: We'll say that the manuscript is complete, because the act of completing a manuscript can significantly alter the publication time, especially if several revisions are necessary. So let's say the manuscript is relatively ready to go (knowing that even the most polished of manuscripts may require a round or two of edits).
Third and final rule: Let's agree that a contract is on the table. This cuts out the highly variable time required to find an agent and/or land a book deal in the first place. I mean, some writers get lucky on their first shot; others take much longer to get that first offer.
Okay, So How Long Does It Take?
With our rules established above, the typical time it takes for a writer to go from book contract to publication is usually somewhere in the nine months to two years area. Many factors come into play for this range of outcomes, including the size of the press and how far out they plan their production schedule.
Of course, a proposed publication date should be mentioned in the book contract, though it can change (one direction or another) based on a variety of unexpected situations that arise. For instance, the situation with COVID-19 has caused some books to move their publication dates back.
I've also known situations where a publication date is moved to an earlier date for a variety of reasons: Filling a slot that opened in the production schedule, capitalizing on a trend, or even a company looking to move profit into an earlier quarter. For these reasons, it's a good idea to turn things around as early as you're able. It just gives you more options for when the unexpected opportunities occur.
Why Does Publishing Take So Long?
The time it takes to publish a book involves several factors, and only one of them is the amount of time it takes to edit, proofread, and possibly fact check the manuscript. There's also time built in for designing the interior and exterior of the book. Time built in for shipping the manuscript to and fro.
Book reviewers and author interviewers need time with advanced review copies (or ARCs) of the book. Booksellers need time to evaluate promotional material and decide whether or not to stock the book in their stores. Writers who may or may not endorse your book need time to write their blurbs.
And smart editors build time in their production schedules for multiple things to go wrong.
A Final Word on Publishing Time
After spending so much time writing the book and submitting the manuscript, it's only natural that writers might get impatient with the publishing process. But remember: All the time baked into the production schedule is meant to give you and your book the best chance to have a successful book launch. And that's all time well spent.